Recharge and Heal: Navigating The Pandemic’s Impact on Mental Health with Brandon Seymour (3/3)

In episode 262, we’re joined by guest Brandon Seymour. This week we’ll share part 3 of an interview with Brandon that begins with the genesis of a blog he wrote called “The Crisis of Loneliness.” Brandon will share his struggles with loneliness and depression during the COVID-19 pandemic, how he recognized it was a problem, societal expectations of strength, and what he’s done to help himself feel better.

Original Recording Date: 12-18-2023

Brandon Seymour is a director of solution architects at Calian, a technology solutions company headquartered in Canada. If you missed part 1 of our discussion with Brandon, check out Episode 260. Part 2 of our discussion can be found in Episode 261.

Topics – The Crisis of Loneliness, Renew and Regenerate, Blocking Time and Sharing Resources

3:09 – The Crisis of Loneliness

  • We start to discuss a different kind of blog article Brandon wrote in 2023 called The Crisis of Loneliness.
    • Previous to the above post, Brandon had written mostly technical articles on his blog focused on VMware technologies. This one was much more personal.
    • Before the pandemic Brandon had been traveling heavily across the United States to support and meet with customers almost daily. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, all of that stopped.
      • Brandon tells us New York (where Brandon was living when the pandemic began) was heavily affected during the pandemic.
    • Brandon was confined to working from his bedroom (which doubled as his office), and there was no separation between work and home life. The lockdowns prevented the social interaction Brandon enjoyed in his work. These collectively began to take a toll on him.
    • At first Brandon was afraid to share his story in blog form but eventually decided the struggles and experience needed to be shared in the hopes that it may help someone else. Getting the story out there was more important than his own comfort.
      • The pandemic caused a lot of depression for Brandon.
      • The blog was also important to highlight how men in particular deal with the amount of stress in their lives.
  • How was the mental strain this time different than his experience back in boot camp?
    • This experience was completely different, and at first, Brandon didn’t recognize the symptoms and signs.
    • “As I was going through it I started to realize that there were aspects of me that were getting lost in the moment…. Who I was was disappearing, and I was going down a hole that I didn’t necessarily know how to dig out of. And it was completely different than the mental mind games of the Marine Corps. This was very much on a personal level. This was very much internal struggles, not really dealing with the outside effects of somebody screaming in my face but more of trying to hold onto who I was while it was slipping away.” – Brandon Seymour
    • Brandon remembers a moment of vulnerability and clarity in a conversation with his wife. He had known it was going on for a while but was hiding it.
      • It was a period of uncertainty as we all entered a new situation (a worldwide pandemic). Brandon’s family was looking to him for comfort, and he wanted to be strong for them.
      • “I didn’t want them to see me fall apart.” – Brandon Seymour, feeling the need to be strong for his family
  • What advice does Brandon have for listeners who may be feeling similar to the above?
    • Brandon mentions he is not a mental health professional but shared his story in hopes people would gain something from it.
    • “There’s no real manual to follow when it comes to mental health…. There’s no real prescription for how you get from one place to the next…. You have to be honest, and you have to be kind to yourself.” – Brandon Seymour
    • We should be honest about how we feel and not try to downplay it. Men may want to downplay how they feel so they don’t look weak, but Brandon recommends we get away from that mindset.
    • Brandon had learned to ask for help in the Marine Corps, and this is part of the reason he had honest conversations with his wife about his feelings, discussing strategies he could use to lessen the brunt of those feelings (i.e. something to help separate home life and work life even though he had to work from home).
      • As things opened up, Brandon and his family started taking walks outside together to get fresh air. They would visit local parks as much as possible, consistently seeking to find ways to spend time together outside their home. It was also a form of mental break and something Brandon said helped turn the tide.

12:57 – Renew and Regenerate

  • Were there any things Brandon did that were just for him and no one else?
    • It’s tough to balance between work, a spouse, and children. We only have so much time and can only spread ourselves so thin.
    • Brandon likes to look at these things through a biblical lens and cites recent discussions with his daughter about leading like Christ in all aspects of our lives.
      • When Jesus spoke to the multitudes, he would be selfless and give people what they needed. As fathers we often do that for our children (i.e. help when they need something).
      • But we also see there were times when Jesus withdrew from the multitudes to take time to himself to recharge. In Mark 6:30 – 32, Jesus even encouraged his apostles to take time away to rest. We as individuals forget the importance of taking breaks for ourselves.
      • Nick agrees having time to ourselves to refresh and rest is important.
    • Brandon also found reading helpful. He sought out books that could help him grow as a person and as a leader in his family and at work. Anything which could help him discover something new about himself or learn something were fair game.
      • “I would set time purposely aside to just read.” – Brandon Seymour
      • Brandon likes to read books using different mediums – books in paper form, audiobooks, etc.
      • Brandon cites The Smartest Person in the Room by Christian Espinoza as a helpful book which changed the way he thinks about customer interaction. Brandon says this allowed him to take a step back and be a better, active listener (a different way of approaching customers).
      • Brandon also read books on servant leadership and would recommend Lead Like Jesus by Ken Blanchard, Phil Hodges, Phyllis Hendry as well as Servant Leadership in Action: How You Can Achieve Great Relationships and Results by Ken Blanchard and Renee Broadwell.
      • Books on servant leadership really changed the way Brandon interacted with his co-workers, his employees, and how he views things within his own family.
      • Servant leadership is about being a servant first and not a leader. Jesus set the example here of what servant leadership looks like.
      • “From a servant leader standpoint, I’m not looking for something from him, but I’m looking for what I can build in him and how I can support and help him with his career and make him successful. Because in return, his success is my success. And it’s the same way with my kids. Putting their needs before my own and building into them will ultimately lead to my success as well…. Your motivation isn’t necessarily what you are getting out of it but what others are getting out of it.” – Brandon Seymour, on servant leadership for his employees and his children
      • Nick sees the same approach of servant leadership present in the way Brandon helped others get into blogging from our earlier discussions.

20:02 – Blocking Time and Sharing Resources

  • Brandon tries to set aside time for himself on a daily basis, which can be a challenge when working in technology. He looks for pockets in his day and adds focus time to his calendar.
    • This focus time is for things Brandon wants to focus on for himself – things unrelated to work / family like something Brandon wants to do or learn (even if it’s watching a show).
    • Nick says we have to be careful about our own energy and have the need to recharge from time to time. Brandon says we need to be careful what we are using for recharging and how we spend out time. Recharging efforts should bring refreshing and renewal and not something that is detrimental.
    • “I always tell my kids, ‘find time to build into yourself.’ And that becomes a positive thing in your life.” – Brandon Seymour
  • What are some other things that helped Brandon come out of his depressive state in addition to the above?
    • Be honest about how you are feeling, be kind to yourself about how you are feeling, and look to resources around you.
    • Brandon had a supportive family that allowed him to talk through his feelings and brainstorm ways that could help change what was causing the problems.
    • “Sometimes you just have to remove yourself physically from the situation, and that helped us a lot.” – Brandon Seymour
    • Brandon has leveraged Employee Assistance Programs (or EAPs) in the past from his employers. These programs exist to support you as a person (and your wellbeing needs) and not just an employee. Brandon says leveraging these programs can connect you to the right resources based on your needs (i.e. a counselor to speak with outside your family, etc.).
    • The National Institute of Mental Health is also a great organization which exists to provide resources.
    • Don’t isolate yourself! Get yourself into places to connect with others. In IT, community groups can help support you as one example.
  • To follow up with Brandon on this discussion, you can find him on his blog site Virtualization Velocity.

Mentioned in the Outro

  • Kudos to Brandon for his willingness to be vulnerable and share his struggles on our show in addition to sharing it in blog form.
  • The idea of Brandon’s sharing his story being more important than his own comfort is really servant leadership in action.
    • Nick recommends listeners read Give and Take by Adam Grant to learn about reciprocity styles and how giving to others provides a benefit to us.
  • Societal pressures and expectations might make us think we need to be strong for others all the time, but as imperfect humans we can’t be strong all the time. Being that source of strength can take a toll on us, and we need to be aware of it.
  • Nick admires Brandon’s example of talking openly with someone else about how he was feeling. Hopefully we can find someone who will listen to us without judgment about the way we feel.
  • Brandon gained energy from reading during his struggles, and it goes back to his desire to grow and learn in what he goes.
    • This focusing / doubling down on something he loved makes a lot of sense based on other things Brandon loved being taken away during the pandemic.
    • Make sure to take some time for just you each and every day. The time should be for you and no one else.
  • This was a tough topic to take on. If you’re looking for other difficult topics, here are some recommendations:

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